There’s nothing fashionable about being late

The pandemic has made punctuality so popular again that even habitual latecomer Rosie Green is trying to mend her ways.

Last week I was late twice. Once for a maths session with my son’s tutor. Once for a personal training session. The first was by a full 60 minutes (excuse: I misread my diary scrawl), the second was by ten minutes (excuse: over-scheduling). Both resulted in me feeling shame, annoyance and anxiety. Both were completely avoidable. Both categorically my fault. They weren’t my rock-bottom lateness moments, though.

The first was missing my honeymoon flight because I misread the 24-hour clock (turned up at 3pm for a 13.00 flight). But this was nowhere near as bad as being so late for my daughter’s school pick-up that she had been transferred from the playground ‘collection zone’ to the school office. I turned up, sweaty and stressed, to see my six-year-old daughter all alone, gnawing at her nails, her face clouded with anxiety. There was nothing funny about that one.

I have lost friends, career opportunities and, I’m sure, years of my life through lateness. But quite apart from that, it now appears that being fashionably late is… unfashionable.

‘Punctuality is having a moment,’ declared The New York Times last month. The reason, it appears, is that during the pandemic nobody had an excuse to be late any more because we weren’t actually going anywhere. No dead car batteries, no stolen handbags, no leaves on the line. Even now that we’re travelling again, societal expectations have shifted enough to make lateness feel passé.

Linda Ong, chief executive officer of Cultique, a US consulting firm that advises companies on changing cultural norms, explained to The New York Times: ‘Punctuality is paramount as we are going through a re-evaluation of our relationship to time. There has been less tolerance for lateness because there is expectation that you have more control over your time and so you should be on time.’

lateness
Image: Getty

The trend is being reflected in the celebrity world where parties are actually starting at the time it says on the invitation. Revolutionary. Take the biggest ticket in the fashion calendar – the Met Gala. It’s the baby of US Vogue powerhouse Anna Wintour and she doesn’t like ‘people who are late’. So influential is she, the stars show up punctually and it runs (almost) on time.

This would have been unheard of when two hours late and pretty common for it to be three. And I was once at a charity party where a supermodel, who shall remain nameless, was due to present an award at 8pm but turned up at 11pm… in her pyjamas.

The restaurant industry, meanwhile, also reports greater punctuality among diners, who are relying less on casual walk-ins and much more on advance reservations booked online.

So I’ve decided that I don’t want to be late any more. I don’t think I ever really did, but it’s definitely not a good look now.

I consult psychologist Fiona Murden, author of Mirror Thinking: How Role Models Make Us Human and coach to many successful CEOs. She says that we need to understand the psychological reasons for our lateness, then adopt strategies to change our behaviour. Here is her advice on how to stop being unfashionably late…

How to stop being late

The problem: Will power

If you are comfortable on the sofa, it’s hard to get up and get out. If you are with one set of friends, it takes resolve to move on to another.

Solution Try the tactic of saying out loud, ‘5,4,3,2,1 move’. From a neurological perspective it focuses the mind and gives you impetus.

The problem: Anxiety

Maybe you are late because you can’t bear the thought of being the person waiting alone. Does being in that position make you feel exposed and vulnerable?

Solution Plan ways to fill your time: research shops to wander round, pack a book to read or take your laptop so you can work.

The problem: Overoptimism

‘My husband does this,’ says Murden. ‘He says: “I’ll be home in an hour” because he genuinely thinks he will. He has faith it will all go smoothly but events/traffic/life happens and he is late.’

Solution When thinking about an upcoming activity or event and how long it will take to get there, ‘reverse order’ it. Factor in whether you’ll have to queue, travel far, wait for service. This will give you a more accurate time frame to work with.

The problem: Too busy

This is an obvious one but worth mentioning nevertheless – is there simply too much in your schedule? Do you try to cram so much into your day that it becomes impossible to achieve it all?

Solution The over-scheduler often overlaps with the optimist so use the tactics above for this particular problem.

The problem: Procrastination

Do you recognise the following thought process? ’I’ll leave after I’ve watered the plants, changed the smoke-alarm batteries, checked my messages.’ It’s about staying in your comfort zone a while longer.

Solution Set an alert on your phone for 15 minutes before you have to leave. It signals to you and others that you will need to go soon.

The problem: People-pleasing

You don’t want to let anyone down, so you tell people you’ll arrive/leave when you think they want you to, rather than when it is practical to do so.

Solution Tell people from the outset that you have to leave at a certain time. It smooths any social friction and makes exiting easier. A lot of CEOs use this tactic.

Armed with the reasons why I’m late and the strategies for stopping my behaviour, I’m feeling positive about becoming the more punctual person I long to be. I have stopped over-scheduling.

I’ve built in contingency time (this is a revelation). I do have to do daily battle with FOMO (fear of missing out) and the institutionalised late-ism a career in fashion journalism has bequeathed me, but I am calmer, happier and a lot less flappy.

In fact, this weekend I paused when a friend asked me to do her make-up for a party on Saturday night. Rather than texting a ‘yes’ straight back, I consulted my large ‘week view’ diary (game-changer) and realised it would make me late for the 40th I was going to. So I said I was very sorry but I couldn’t.

And do you know what? The sky didn’t fall in. As far as I know she’s still speaking to me. And my boyfriend and I arrived at the barbecue unflustered.

I think that’s called success.